The long running dispute on South Western Railways continued on Friday as RMT strikers escalated their action to a three day strike. Socialist Party members Jane Ward and Nick Doyle visited picket lines in Bournemouth and Portsmouth.
In Bournemouth the strikers remained resolute at the start of 72 hours of action on August 31st. There was a determined mood to stay strong and united. Morale amongst the strikers was still high. The guards said they were still getting a lot of support from rail passengers.
Guards are needed on all trains and it was emphatically stated that this was a line that could not be crossed. It was felt that if trains were to run without guards, this would be the start of a dangerous path and an avenue the RMT guards did not want to walk down.
Pickets explained that negotiations with South Western Railway have taken place on a number of occasions without arriving at any agreement. It has been questioned as to whether the negotiators from SWR carry enough authority to make decisions. South Western Railway won the franchise from South West Trains in 2017. One difference in the bids was the fact that only the one from SWT included guards on the train. There is speculation that this is one of the reasons that the franchise was lost to them.
There is a clause in the franchise that at the discretion of the secretary of state, the rail company can seek financial remuneration for losses incurred during industrial action. The company must be able to prove that they have been exhaustive in their efforts to resolve the dispute. The question then arises that some of the talks with acas could be as a result of the rail companies wishing to fulfil the criteria of the franchise. If payments are made, it results in the financial burden falling on the taxpayer.
At Fratton station in Portsmouth, the mood of guards was determined. News of victory on the Mersey rail could be a determining factor in their own struggle as RMT members are forced by Tory anti-trade union legislation to re-ballot after six months in dispute. Management are refusing to talk, holding out to the end till the ballot closes, hoping the 50% threshold is not reached. The guards are doing everything to make sure the 50% is beaten. Forcing management back to the negotiating table.
The guards will out again, at Fratton station and across the SWR network on Saturday the 8th and 15th of September, please give your support.